Civil Wars TBone Burnett - A Place At The Table as reviewed in Phantom TollboothT-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars producing a dark, smoky musical vision of an important and often forgotten issue.

A Place At The Table (Soundtrack)
Artist: The Civil Wars & T-Bone Burnett
Label:  Sensibility Music
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Duration:  13 tracks, 38:11

A warning to Civil War and T-Bone Burnett fans, this CD is a soundtrack for the 2013 documentary ‘A Place At The Table’ starring Jeff Bridges and should not be confused with their purely musical offerings. The documentary of the same name, also released March 1, 2013, examines hunger in America.

The combination of The Civil Wars (Joy Williams and John Paul White) and T-Bone Burnett stands up with a dark, smoking feel. Although a few songs include vocals, many short instrumentals are incorporated as would be expected with most soundtracks. The hidden treasure here is to experience the artist’s talents in instrumentals. This includes Williams haunting play on piano and White’s slide guitar work, all accented by the deep blues guitar of Burnett.

Throughout the production, a deep scratchy old blues feel is engineered which lays the foundation for the soundtracks coloring of the documentary. The opener, “Mississippi Delta”, showcases this effect followed by the threesome’s harmony in “Long Time Gone” with accents of solid percussion and William’s signature vocal qualities.

Burnett’s instrumentals continue to color the soundtrack with the lonely, desperate calling of hunger including “Uptown Brown’s”, “At The Table”, “Witness To Hunger” and “I Do Exist”. “Barbie At The Bodega”, “Focus (Rosie’s Theme)” and “Getting Worse” round out the Civil Wars instrumentals with the latter showcasing Williams piano play.  All three combine for some of the best instrumentals including “The Need” and “Witness To Hunger” with hard acoustic notes displaying the horrors of hunger.

It is the vocal pieces, as would be expected, that shine. “Long Time Gone (The Dustbowl Version)” is slow and deliberate with banjo, violin, and vocals bring the listener directly to the documentary’s message. “Finally North” has William’s vocals taking on a different range. The melancholy harmony depicts a tenuous and hard drawn journey.

Not having seen the documentary, it is difficult to envision the synergy of music and film. The documentary’s topic of hunger is well portrayed through the soundtrack’s feel of desperation. For fans of The Civil Wars, some will feel the production of a soundtrack may be too early in their career as this offering contains more instrumental than vocal (ex. Mark Knopfler’s career with Dire Straits prior to delving into soundtracks.) However, this is a rare opportunity to experience the combination of T-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars producing a dark, smoky musical vision of an important and often forgotten issue.

Scott S Mertens